Charles Easterday Renn, 94, biologist, pollution expert

July 30, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Charles Easterday Renn, a noted Johns Hopkins University biologist and an expert on water pollution and waste management control, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 94 and lived in Sparks.

A short, stocky man with a great shock of white hair, black-rimmed glasses and a ready smile, he joined the Hopkins faculty in 1946. He retired as professor of geography and environmental science in 1970.

Dr. Renn wrote more than 40 major papers and books on water quality. In addition to teaching and conducting research, he consulted with oil, steel, paper and fiber manufacturers on reducing pollution and safeguarding public health.

From 1944 to 1946, as a research biologist, he studied shellfish, insecticides, water treatment, waste-water treatment and stream pollution for the Massachusetts Health Department. Earlier, he was a sanitary biologist and associate professor of sanitary biology at Harvard University from 1934 to 1944.

"He was one of the very early and significant investigators on the biological aspects of water pollution, and this was the beginning, in the late 1940s, of what eventually grew into the environmental movement," said Dr. M. Gordon "Reds" Wolman, a professor in the department of geography and environmental engineering at Hopkins.

"Charlie was a first-rate scientist, who applied fundamental biological principles to water pollution. He was, without a doubt, a major figure in water pollution, measure of water quality and treatment processes," Dr. Wolman said.

He described Dr. Renn as a "wonderful combination of the naturalist and environmental engineer" and a "remarkably lively and interesting teacher."

"He created a very exciting and challenging environment and brought to life the biological sciences to the engineers," said F. Pierce Linaweaver, Baltimore director of public works from 1968 to 1974.

Mr. Linaweaver said Dr. Renn was always thinking of ways to dispose of trash. One of his favorite devices was used at his cocktail parties.

"He invented a silver bowl-like container with swept-back sides that held toothpicks, napkins and other cocktail trash out of sight. It demonstrated that he had a real fun side to himself," Mr. Linaweaver said.

"He was a multiple-gifted individual who had so many different facets and, like a precious jewel, he shined in all of those facets," said D. Loren Jensen, founder and chief executive officer of E A Engineering Science and Technology Inc. who was on the Hopkins faculty with Dr. Renn.

He praised Dr. Renn's ability as a "generator of solutions to problems," as one who made the "hardest topics easy to understand. He always communicated his knowledge of science across common life's experiences."

Dr. Renn was born and reared on a Frederick County farm. He earned a bachelor's degree in science education from Columbia University in 1928, a master's degree in science education from New York University in 1932 and a doctorate in microbiology from Rutgers University in 1935.

In retirement, he worked in his machine shop at his farm in northern Baltimore County near Prettyboy Reservoir, perfecting such inventions as metering pumps, disinfection systems, portable bathrooms, exercise machines and alarm systems.

He continued to write and in his last years produced the "Rolodex Papers."

"This was an alphabetical series of essays, some three or four pages long, based on each of his Rolodex cards, bringing his career and friendships back to life, and providing a window into America's scientific community from the Depression to the postwar years," said his son, Eli Renn of Sparks.

Dr. Renn married the former Elisabeth Sheffield in the late 1940s; she died in 1988.

Services are private.

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Molly Heckscher of Haverford, Pa.; and four grandchildren.

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